She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and proceeded to give the reason for her disapproval: “It was a shame sermon.” Apparently, the preacher had crossed a line and dared to make his listeners (yes, Christian listeners) uncomfortable and feeling ashamed. And for that, he would never be forgotten nor invited to return. Only shame-less preaching was welcome there.
Shame sermons. I didn’t know they had a label. But a shame sermon can certainly be a scriptural one. After all, the apostle John spoke about the possibility of a believer’s being ashamed at Christ’s coming (1Jn 2:28), and Paul instructed the Thessalonians to have no company with a believer who refused to obey the content of his letter and to “have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (2Th 3:14 ESV). Appeals to amend our behavior to align with Scripture and avoid experiencing shame are clearly within the preacher’s purview. But it may be that much of our preaching is becoming more and more shame-less. We want to leave church meetings feeling encouraged, comforted, renewed or inspired. We want to leave feeling better about ourselves, not down on ourselves. And so the temptation for those who teach is to give people what they want.
Such a temptation is not new but is as old as the Bible itself. The people of Judah in Isaiah’s day claimed they wanted to hear from the prophets, but on their terms, not the Lord’s. They exclaimed, “Don’t relate messages to us about what is right! Tell us nice things …” (Isa 30:10 NET). They wanted preaching, but shame-less preaching! The prophet Micah had to deal with a similar situation and declared, “If a lying windbag should come and say, ‘I’ll promise you blessings of wine and beer,’ he would be just the right preacher for these people!” (Mic 2:11 NET). They would be happy to hear those who spoke about God’s blessings but had no stomach to listen to messages about His commands. Apparently, prosperity gospel preachers are not just a 20th– or 21st-century phenomenon.
Now I’m not accusing us of going this far. But the tendency of our day is to avoid certain subjects that make us feel like we’re not living the way we should. We act as if there’s no behavior in need of rebuking, no course correction called for. We want to hear about the love of God, the grace of God, the promises of God and, especially, the blessings of God. But what about the holiness of God, and the holiness He demands of His people? Sinful acts and attitudes need to be addressed in our preaching and even (horror of horrors) rebuked! If this causes us to feel shame, praise the Lord if such shame motivates us to holy living. And if we leave a missionary report meeting resolving to devote more time to the things of God because we feel ashamed of how much time we waste, to God be the glory!
Admittedly, shame sermons can be taken too far, becoming even unbiblical. And some have only shame sermons in their repertoire. But surely we can do with more preaching on holiness, commitment and devotion to our Savior. And if this makes us feel ashamed, shame on us.